a sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
The man who complained about Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath was right – Jesus could have done it some other time. But Jesus knew that true Sabbath rest depends on freedom.
A couple of years ago, my neighbors did a major kitchen renovation. They had everything ripped out, down to the wall studs. Then they installed new tile, cabinets, countertops and appliances. One day not too long after they were finished, my buddy, Dan, called to see if I could come over and help him out with something in their kitchen. Their new oven had all sorts of bells and whistles: convection and conventional heat, a big bright LED display, all sorts of timers and temperature modes that you could program. And right in the middle of the control panel, it had a setting that neither of us had ever seen before. It said, “Sabbath Mode.” We were baffled. What in the world did it mean? Why would an electric oven care if it was cooking on a Saturday or Sunday?
We did some research and found out that according to Jewish teaching, work of any kind is prohibited on the Sabbath. But in this case, the word “work” has a very special meaning. Based on Jewish interpretations of Genesis and Exodus, work means any kind of creative action. This is because after creating the world in six days, God rested; he refrained from creating. As a result, there are all kinds of activities that orthodox Jewish people classify as work. One of those is starting a fire, or lighting an oven or stove. So in the case of my neighbor’s fancy new oven, Sabbath mode allowed the oven to be used more than twelve hours continuously without overheating, so that a cook could prepare all the meals needed for a family before Friday evening, the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
I tell you this because it helps us understand that the Pharisee in today’s gospel was not necessarily being mean-spirited when he complained about Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath. He was simply trying to make sure that the Sabbath rules that were handed down by Moses in the desert, rules that many modern Jews continue to observe to this day, were not being broken. After all, the woman had been coming to the synagogue for years to pray. Her life was not in any mortal danger. And her body became bent and misshaped long before that particular day. But for some reason, Jesus saw her and decided to heal her. He removed the pain that had broken her body for 18 years so that she could finally straighten herself up, lift her face to the heavens and give praise to God.
Now there is no question that this was a miracle, this healing. Only Jesus could have done it. He called out to her and laid his hands on her. And she was healed. She began praising God and the all the people around her rejoiced with her for what Jesus had done. But we’re still left with the question of why did Jesus do it on this day? Why couldn’t he have done it yesterday, or tomorrow? After all, don’t the Ten Commandments tell us to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?”
One of the things that helps me understand this passage better is to look at the Hebrew word for “remember,” zakhor. But zakhor means more than simply recalling something that happened in the past or calling up a distant memory. It means more than saying, “remember where you put your car keys.” Zakhor is more active than that. It is the act of reconstructing the pieces of a person, place, or thing and make it whole again. In other words, zakhor means to remember something that once was and to give it life, that is do something about it.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
For the Pharisee, Sabbath was all about recalling a great event in the past – the day that God rested after creating the world. There is no question that God intends for us to rest and refresh ourselves. God knows that we all work too much and we need time to rest and recharge our batteries.
But Jesus also knew that the gift of rest is possible only for a person who is free from the bondage of slavery and sin. True peace, the real Sabbath, according to Jesus, comes when we are able to break free of the bonds and burdens that weigh us down – the burdens of sin against God and our fellow human beings, the burdens of guilt, the burdens of those things we have done and left undone.
This is why Jesus quite literally liberated this woman – the scripture says “set her free” – from the bondage of a crippling illness. He freed her from being a captive to her own body, and he did it on the Sabbath.
When Jesus freed the woman from the prison of her body, he was living in the true spirit of the Sabbath – a day given to us by God, a day of freedom and liberation, a day to restore and refresh the spirit as well as the body. By his action, Jesus transformed the Sabbath from a day of simply resting doing nothing to a day in which we actively recall God’s actions in our lives.
Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
God gave us the Sabbath so that we might recommit ourselves to creating the Kingdom of God here on earth. How can we do that? We begin by looking at our own actions. When we act with kindness to strangers, or work to help those less fortunate than us, when we share what we have with those who have none, these are times when we remember the Sabbath. When we refrain from finger pointing and talking about people behind their backs, when we open our hearts and our minds to people who look and think differently from us, these are times when we remember the Sabbath. When we set aside our own personal interests and agendas, when we act in the world as Christ would act, these are times when we remember the Sabbath. We when we do any of these things throughout the week, we are living into our call to remember the Sabbath.
I’m going to go out on a limb here to ask you to think about 3 questions this week:
The first question is this: In what ways has God acted in your life to liberate you? What has God done that resulted in you becoming more energized, more empowered, more free to act in the world? The first question I’d like you to consider is when in your life that God has healed you and changed you?
The second question is this: What are the stumbling blocks that prevent you from healing? Where do you still feel bound and tied down? In what ways do you feel a imprisoned or unable to act? The second question I’d like you to think about is where is God missing from your life?
And the third question is one that I may regret, but I want to know… When was the last time you rejoiced at worship on Sunday? What makes you feel refreshed and energized after going to church? What was that service like, and what would you like to see us do to restore that feeling? The third question is how can we make worship at St. Simon and St. Jude an act of joyful celebration, and not just a holy obligation.
I’d really be grateful if you’d take some time to actually give these three questions some consideration, and let me know what you come up with. Send me an email or scribble me a note.
The people rejoiced when Jesus freed the woman from her illness, because they had finally witnessed a true Sabbath. They had witnessed first hand God’s redeeming power at work to release her from her painful suffering. They rejoiced because Jesus was truly remembering the Sabbath. They rejoiced at God’s liberating action in their own lives.
Remember the Sabbath, and keep it joyful and holy.
Thanks be to God.